There’s a line about derby matches being the first fixtures you look for when the calendar for the new season comes out, isn’t there?
Not necessarily for those on the blue half of Merseyside.
Evertonians of this generation have been through numerous emotions when it comes to the fixture against Liverpool.
There’s been all the classic feelings you associate with these embittered matches—belief, anger, angst and dejection—but now, and while I can’t speak for the entire fanbase, there’s a huge sense of apathy. Shoulders shrug rather than lift at the prospect of a derby.
Of course, in the Premier League years it’s Liverpool who have had the stronger side and at the moment the chasm between the two outfits is as big as it has been since the inception of the division.
Naturally, that means the Reds will win more than they lose in this fixture, but reflecting back on some of the encounters in recent years, it’s almost as if the Reds are writing their own script in this game.
Captain scoring a hat-trick? Steven Gerrard did that in 2012 against a scratch Everton XI.
Winning at Wembley? Liverpool did so later that year, scoring a late winner after Everton had taken the lead, of course.
Absolute annihilation? Yep, Everton were on the end of those in 2014 and 2016 at Anfield, losing 4-0 on both occasions.
New player scoring on their debut? Virgil van Dijk’s header knocked Everton out of the FA Cup in January 2018.
Stoppage time winners? Sadio Mane poked home at the end of a drab game at Goodison in 2016.
It’s been a grim few years in this fixture, so much so that when Van Dijk’s skewed shot bounced off the crossbar twice and perfectly into the path of Divock Origi in the 96th minute at Anfield last December, it wasn’t in the slightest bit surprising.
Having turned 30 earlier this year, looking back on my 20s I had one derby win to celebrate in a decade. It’s become a game you tolerate rather than embrace, and attend out of fear of missing out on victory rather than approach with any sense of real belief.
With that in mind, highlights have been scarce for Evertonians as of late and many will need to look back longer than a decade for some great memories of the fixture.
Lee Carsley’s winner in 2004 felt like the catalyst for a fantastic season for the Toffees. That 1-0 win, and the manner in which it emboldened everyone at the club, was crucial to David Moyes steering that side to a shock fourth place finish that term.
The 3-0 win a couple of years later was the only time in my lifetime where it felt like Everton totally dominated their neighbours.
Seeing the win capped off with Pepe Reina’s hilarious attempts to keep out Andy Johnson’s shot late on was the icing on the cake. The Toffees don’t really do “rubbing it in” in the derby; they did that day.
But these memories have been a little tempered by what’s happened in the subsequent years, when Everton have crumbled at the site of red shirts and recoiled into their shells before the Kop.
A few years ago, I would have said a mentality problem was the key obstacle to Everton faring better in this game. Now it’s so much more.
All these factors mean Everton face a huge challenge shifting the narrative in this fixture, with the scars of the past and the quality gap of present very much against them.
Another trip across Stanley Park looms on December 4 and Evertonians can at least make that short trip knowing things can’t possibly get any worse.